I have two novels I am shopping out to publishers. Two publishershave had them for an extended time with no word on yea or nay. I assume nay on both counts, but publishers are never in a hurry, which is part of the point.
This article, while biased, has some good insights.
My first three were published by a publisher, and my next four were self-published. I study this subject a good deal, at least more than most.
Bottom line: most self-published books do not do very well, fewer than 100 on average (probably fewer). It all depends on the platform the author already has, his/her ability and willingness to publicize and market, and oh, yes, the quality of the book, or the appeal--does it gain traction.
Famous example: The Pecan Man.
Also famous example, Sean of the South (Sean Dietrich), whom I just learned about this week through THE HABIT podcast by Jonathan Rogers (Nashville-based). (Excellent podcast, by the way.) He got contracts with Zondervan, etc. after several self-published books, but he had other platforms (newspapers, magazines, and musical performances).
As they say in show business, there is no such thing as an overnight success.
Less famous examples, someone I won't mention by name but who writes about East Tennessee and the Smokeys. This writer has about twenty books out, mostly in a series, and has amassed a pretty good following. I had a book signing at Barnes and Noble once and she was also there, and man alive, she was pushy. And it paid off; I think she can live on her writing.
So I thought, who is her publisher? The name of the company was unfamiliar to me, and I looked it up. It doesn't exist on the Internet, and she is its only writer; in other words, she started a publishing company for herself and herself only, apparently. And why not?
Bottom line: If you are
good at marketing and
have the time and energy to create a platform, website, podcasts, and speaking appearances, and
you can put out a steady stream (usually a series) of books (as in at least one a year) that appeal to a certain demographic, and
you have a good-looking and well-edited project,
you can self-publish successfully and only a certain class of people will care (this applies to fiction and nonfiction). The market you find and create becomes the arbiter, not a publisher, i.e., someone else who is willing to take a risk on the book and you. The people who like your books won't care; they want a good reading experience, not the imprint of Harper and Row on the back (which jacks up the price).
Don't lead with cheap, though. It undervalues your work.
It also helps (as in is necessary) to be an accessible and outgoing human being who cares about people enough to write humane material and get out there among the readers. This is hard because writing is a solitary act that is extremely time-consuming.
There are plenty of sources out there that can help you with these matters. And that will love to take your money to do so.
My goal is to beef up my podcast (and learn the audio editing skills) to support my platform. And keep writing. And writing.
End result: I had made myself a promise that I would not self-publish again until I found a publisher, any publisher. Was that a wise promise? Will I break it? It's likely I will, within a certain time fame, because I am losing patience with the process and just want to get my stories out there without the interference of someone who may or may not have the knowledge and taste I respect.
So is self-publishing all that bad? Sometimes. Probably the majority of the time, because there is a huge glut of self-published garbage out there. A savvy person can negotiate the process and make it work, but it is not an easy process.